FBI fingerprint experts investigated Portland, Ore., lawyer Brandon Mayfield as a suspect in the Madrid train bombings even though Spanish police raised early doubts about a fingerprint match, the Los Angeles Times reports. A federal investigator traveled to Madrid in April to try convincing police there that a print found on a bag of detonators was Mayfield’s. U.S. officials said they believed the Spanish were “satisfied with the FBI laboratory’s identification,” said a court affidavit. U.S. District Judge Robert Jones has dismissed the case against Mayfield and ordered that fingerprint evidence be preserved to investigate the FBI’s handling of the case.
Records show that federal investigators came up with 20 possible matches. Terry Green, an FBI senior fingerprint examiner, narrowed it down to Mayfield, a former Army lieutenant whose prints were part of his military record. Green considered the match “to be 100% identification,” the affidavit said. Green’s conclusion was backed by three other experts. Spanish police had expressed doubt about the match as early as mid-April, according to the affidavit. Wax said he believed that the FBI stretched the truth about Spanish concurrence get the warrant on Mayfield.
Tom Nelson, a Portland attorney and longtime friend of the Mayfield family, said the court papers showed that investigators keyed in on Mayfield because he was Muslim, and because of his associations with other Muslims.
Experts said the case raises basic questions about FBI methodology. “But for the fortuity of the fact that the Spanish fingerprinting examiners were able to find another match – which was more compelling than the FBI was making – this guy would still be in jail,” said Robert Epstein, a federal public defender in Philadelphia who has challenged the FBI fingerprint techniques in court. “Who knows how many other distorted images the FBI has made identifications on. In many cases, there is no independent verification. This shows there is no assurance against a bad identification.”